Karin Hulshof: Need to stop burning coal indoors is URGENT
The government could consider introducing a sugar tax. This would help raise revenues to invest in healthy foods for all children
1 долоо хоног, 4 өдөр өмнө
UNICEF INSTALLED MECHANICAL VENTILATION AND AIR PURIFICATION AND GIZ IMPROVED THE INSULATION OF THE BUILDING OF KINDERGARTEN #63 IN BAYANZURKH DISTRICT, FINANCIALLY SUPPORTED BY THE SWISS AGENCY FOR DEVELOPMENT AND COOPERATION (SDC). THIS KINDERGARTEN IS NOW MORE ENERGY EFFICIENT AND HAS CLEANER AIR INSIDE, PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM AIR POLLUTION. THIS SHOULD BECOME STANDARD PRACTICE IN ALL KINDERGARTENS AND UNICEF WILL CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR THIS.
AScience and policy dialogue on combat-ing urban air pollution impacts on maternal and child health in Asia took place in Ulaanbaatar at the start of the so called “smoke season”. This is when the amount of pollutants in Ulaanbaatar’s air reaches it annual peak. ZGM Daily had the chance to sit down with Ms.Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Rуgional Director for East Asia and the Pacific to discuss out-comes of the dialogue and ways Mongolia can utilise to better its air quality.
-Моngolia has made some pro-gress in reducing air pollution, fol-lowing the government’s decision to ban raw coal this year. What’s your verdict on the government’s policies on air pollution reduction?
-In terms of reducing PM2.5 levels, I think we need a few more months data. So far the winter has been mild. We should also keep in mind that even if it would result in a 50% improvement, it would still leave us with very toxic levels of pollution affecting our health. To provide clean air to its citizens, the government has to rapidly and completely phase out the burning of any type of coal and other solid fuels in residential areas. I like to quote the UN Secretary General Antonio Gu-terres who said that Asia’s “coal addiction” should end. This will require expanding district heating and strengthening the electric grid, much better insulation, and proper pricing of energy. Especially insulation of people’s homes has been neglected far too long. I really hope the government will come up with a very ambitious plan and deliver the result within the next 5 years.
-Although we have witnessed reduction in presence of partic-ulate matters in the air, the fact that the amount of NO2, SO2 and CO is increasing is not receiving the attention it deserves. A 2005 study conducted in India, New Delhi had proven that NO2, among the other six types of air pollut-ants identified by the WHO is the most harmful to human health. Yet, the amount of this pollutant in Ulaanbaatar has been kept at 2-3 times higher levels than previous years. You have served as UNICEF representative in India. What can Mongolia learn from the policies India implemented in terms of re-ducing NO2, SO2 and CO?
-The main sources of air pollution in India are different from Mongolia. In India, it is a combination of industry, traffic, burning of urban and agricultural waste, and the use of solid fuels for cooking. In Mongolia, the air pollution is by far dominated by the burning of coal for heating. As a result, PM2.5 is clearly the most harmful pollutant in the context of Mongolia. I am however very concerned about the high number of carbon monoxide poisoning associated with the use of the refined coal (enhanced coal briquettes). This is particularly dangerous to pregnant women because it can deplete the fetus from oxygen which can affect the development of the fetus in many ways and can increase the risk of a miscarriage. It again highlights the urgency to stop burning coal indoors. We have to imagine the impact of air pollutions on every child.
-A Science and policy dialogue on combating urban air pollution impacts on maternal and child health in Asia recently conclud-ed successfully in Ulaanbaatar. What’s your take on the results of the forum?
-This dialogue brought together some of the world’s top scientists and policy makers from Mongolia and from across the region and the world. We learned that there is in-creasing evidence that air pollution affects fertility. On the positive side, there is also evidence that air purifiers, when correctly used, can contribute to better birth outcomes. Policymakers brought solutions and knowledge from their countries and discussed potential collaborations at the regional level. It was clear that the health sector needs to get much stronger involved. Mongolia shared with other countries what the health sector can do in terms of awareness raising and strengthening health services for vulnerable children. The Ministry of Health with the support from the Ministry of Finance is providing pneumonia vaccines to children which makes them less sensitive to air pollution. Also, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health are rolling out a training programme on air pollution and maternal and child health, to fur-ther educate health practitioners.
-Child health depends on adults. Could you give examples of good experience from the workshops or seminars for adults to help raise their children healthy?
-Indeed, parents play a critical role in a child’s health and development. Parents should play with their children, read books with them and make sure they get healthy diets and their vaccinations on time. Мany governments and companies have already started to adopt family-friendly policies and proce-dures including paid maternal and parental leave, paid sick-leave, breastfeeding breaks, quality childcare and child benefits. Now we need commitment to implementation. Familyfriendly policies are not just the right thing to do, but also the smart and equitable thing to do for the economy and the society.
-What other things have you achieved other than attending the forum during your visit in Mongolia? How many high-lev-el meetings have you attended? Can we expect positive outcomes regarding child labor, children’s and maternal health following your visit?
-In all my conversations I highlighted that this year the world is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mongolia has made very good progress. There are more children surviving than ever before, there are more children in school than ever before. There are also unfinished business and emerging issues to address. I visited Kindergarten #63 in Bayanzurkh District where UNICEF installed mechanical ventilation and air purification and GIZ improved the insulation of the building, financially supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). This kindergarten is now more energy efficient and has cleaner air inside, protecting children from air pollution. The teachers, children and parents were very happy. This should become standard practice in all kindergartens and UNICEF will continue to advocate for this. I had the honor to meet the Minister of Health Mrs D.Sarangerel. I truly appreciate her leadership and commitment to advance the air pollution related agenda in her capacity of Member of the Parliament. I also had the opportunity to facilitate a productive meeting between UNICEF and the Governments of Mongolia and China to explore possible SouthSouth Cooperation. We discussed potential concrete opportunities to collaborate in the field of air pollution and maternal and child health, such as knowledge exchange, joint research and technology exchange. I also had a very good meeting with the Minister of Education Mr. Yo Baatarbileg. We agreed on the need to invest more in improving the quality of learning, improving water, sanitation and hygiene in kindergartens and schools, and addressing climate change. With support from our partners such as ChildFund Korea and KOICA, UNICEF will provide technical assistance on those issues and I expect good results moving forward.